Chronic respiratory diseases prevention and control


Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs), affect the airways and other structures of the lungs, and represent a wide array of serious diseases. Preventable CRDs include asthma and respiratory allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occupational lung diseases, cancer, sleep apnoea syndrome and pulmonary hypertension. They constitute a serious public health problem in all countries throughout the world, including the WHO African Region and deprived populations.

Hundreds of millions of people suffer every day from CRDs. According to the latest WHO estimates (2007), currently 300 million people have asthma; 210 million people have COPD while millions have allergic rhinitis and other often-under diagnosed CRDs. More than 50% of them live in low and middle income countries. The prevalence of preventable CRDs is increasing everywhere and in particular among children and elderly people; its burden has major adverse effects on the quality of life and disability of affected individuals. Preventable CRDs cause premature deaths and also have large adverse and underappreciated economic effects on families, communities and societies in general.

Many risk factors for preventable CRDs have been identified: tobacco smoke and other forms of indoor air pollution; pollutants; outdoor pollution; allergens; occupational agents; diseases such as schistosomiasis or sickle cell disease and living at a high altitude. Several barriers reduce the availability, affordability, dissemination and efficacy of optimal management of CRDs: poverty, poor education, illiteracy, lack of sanitation and poor infrastructure; multiplicity of languages, religious and cultural beliefs and nutrition. Availability and accessibility of drug and devices are often poor. In many countries, there is still poor accessibility to drugs despite the Bamako Initiative launched over 15 years ago. There is also a lack of resources for the diagnosis of CRDs, differences in health-care systems, to put evidence into practice and lack of trained personnel.

The aim of the WHO CRDs programme is to support Member States in their efforts to reduce the toll of morbidity, disability and premature mortality related to CRDs, and specifically, asthma and COPD. The Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD) is part of the WHO's global work to prevent and control chronic diseases.

Focal person for Chronic Respiratory Diseases:
Dr. Jean-Marie Dangou
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